Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Learning about the three main species of jellyfish in the Black Sea while waiting for a ferry at the edge of the Bosphorus might not be considered a typical item on the itinerary of a traveler’s first day in Istanbul. Our informant, Ahmet Kideys, was not a tour guide either. He’s trained as a marine biologist and serves as the executive director of the Permanent Secretariat for the Commission for the Protection of the Black Sea from Pollution (Black Sea Commission), a group dedicated to environmental cooperation among the six countries surrounding the sea.
The first site we visited was not Topkapi Palace, the Haghia Sophia, or the Blue Mosque. These famous sites would be there for another day — meeting Ahmet was a much higher priority for us. We have come to Istanbul to prepare for our voyage to the Black Sea this summer. He’d been expecting us and happened to be available on the day we called to say we’d arrived in Istanbul, so we hopped on the next ferry from Kadikoy to Besiktas on the European side and used our Turkcell phone to find Ahmed walking down the street to meet us.
Over lunch at Balkan Lokantasi, a busy self-service restaurant with typical Turkish fare, we talked about the work of the commission and explained our previous work on similar issues. The conversation continued with the small but dedicated staff in the offices of the Black Sea Commission in Dolmabache Palace. We were eager to learn about the environmental issues facing the Black Sea, and they wanted to learn about our planned voyage. We left with a list of ideas about ways we might be able to help them, such as recording dolphin, jellyfish and marine litter sightings, and they offered to provide us with information and contacts related to Black Sea environmental issues.
A few hours later, we found ourselves at the ferry port with Ahmet who had kindly invited us to his home on the Asian side for dinner. His wife Alison prepared a delicious Turkish meal for us, but their three children were like most kids we know and wanted nothing to do with the traditional meal. They preferred Little Ceasar’s take-out pizza or soup instead. We had a very pleasant evening and agreed that they would come visit us on Gyatso next Sunday.
Not a traveler’s typical first day in Istanbul, but it couldn’t have been better for us.